Through the air, on the ground, or screaming off the edges, nothing came easy in a 31-22 victory for the San Benito High Haybalers on the road against the Seaside High Spartans. But, when the dust settled and the clock read triple zeros, the Haybalers (5-1, 3-0) found themselves on top, in a three-way tie for the first place in the Monterey Bay League’s Gabilan Division.
Things will only get more interesting from here.
The final score belies how the game was going for San Benito before halftime. Seaside (3-3, 0-3) had stunned the Haybalers off two long touchdowns of 75 yards and 65 yards between senior quarterback Ivan Ochoa and all-around offensive weapon Daniel Sayer, which gave the Spartans a 22-12 lead shortly before the half.
From that point on, the San Benito’ offense got to work and the defense clamped down. Seaside’s aerial show was grounded for the remainder of the game. Near halftime, as the Balers were driving to the end zone when junior quarterback Slade Wilson hit senior tight end Giovanni Giannotta for a 15-yard touchdown. Senior running back Matt Ramon, the team’s goal line battering ram, punched through the line for a successful 2-point conversion, narrowing the score.
From that point on, it was all Haybalers.
“In the first half we were kind of being stopped, but in the second half our coaches made adjustments to go over right and over left, which opened up the playbook,” said Wilson, who explained San Benito’s offensive evolution after the half. “Then, we were able to open up the option to the weak side. By doing that it opened up our smash option and we were able to get two lead blockers.”
Besides production from Seaside junior Roderick Gaskins Jr. and senior running back Demarcus Hawkins, the Spartan’s offense was smothered by the Balers’ defense in the second half.
“We made some adjustment at halftime offensively and defensively,” said Balers coach Bryan Smith said. “They couldn’t block the blitz at the end and we brought pressure from all sides. They didn’t change the protection, so there was no need to change the blitz.”
It was like an early Thanksgiving feast for senior linebacker Eric Fernandez, who terrorized Ochoa, who would most often not drop back more than a few yards. Fernandez finished the night with a remarkable four sacks.
“At halftime, our coaches were sticking it to us and telling us that we were better than them and we needed to play like it,” Fernandez said. “Their offensive line could not handle our pressure. Everyone was doing a great job on defense, not just me.”
From then on out it was a ground and pound clock chewing affair for the Balers. Senior running back Jonny Gonzalez and sophomore Eric Green attacked the line of scrimmage, methodically biting off chunks of yards while Wilson utilized his athleticism and running ability to march down the field.
Senior running back Joe Demaggio punched through the line for a 1-yard touchdown and Giannotta caught a 2-point conversion to give San Benito a 28-22 lead.
“They watched the film from last week and they adjusted, so I knew what I had to do; I got tackled a lot for it,” said Gonzalez, who was covered head to toe in turf. “I’m a team player and it’s a team effort and I want my boys to succeed. Whoever gets on that scoreboard go up, I’m down for it.”
Junior placekicker Izia Polanco added a short field goal late to ice the possibility of a Seaside comeback.
At times during the game, it wasn’t the nicest or the most polite meeting between rivals. Seaside committed two personal fouls, along with a pair of facemask penalties which helped to give San Benito several key first downs. Haybaler coaches stressed to their players to not respond to taunts.
“I’m proud of our guys,” Smith said. “We knew that Seaside presented us with some issues with talent, speed and athleticism, but our guys responded. We talked all week about playing Haybalers football. We weren’t going to get into those kind of shouting matches and our guys were not going to get involved in it.”
San Benito plays host to Salinas on Friday in a showdown of two of the three teams—Aptos is the other—that are 3-0 in league play.
Upon hearing that Palma lost to Salinas last week, Gonzalez sounded eager to get the game going already.
“Here we go,” Gonzalez said. “The only thing I got to say is, here we go.”